Dāna & the poor

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
dagon
Posts: 526
Joined: Sun Jun 30, 2013 12:45 am

Re: Dāna & the poor

Post by dagon » Tue Dec 03, 2013 2:36 pm

Vakkali wrote:Hey everyone,

Something's been troubling me, and I was hoping that I could get more input to help me figure it out...

People can complain about Christianity & the behavior of certain Christians all they want, but it seems like Christian organizations do a LOT to alleviate poverty and associated problems in poor communities and under-developed countries. The New Testament material that I'm familiar with seems to place a lot of emphasis on elevating impoverished and otherwise oppressed individuals in society...and I have to admit that I've been somewhat disappointed by what seems like a lack of specific injunctions to give, not just to monks, but to poor and homeless people as a means of combating inequality and relieving suffering.

Why is this? Am I not reading the right suttas? Or is giving to the poor considered a natural extension of Buddhist principles of compassion and generosity? I'm aware of Engaged Buddhism, which seems most popular here in North America...but what about Asia? Do Theravada monastics actively encourage efforts to fight poverty, hunger, and other things? Help me out here.

I have to admit that this question (these questions?) is/are partly motivated by accusations that Theravada Buddhism is more or less concerned with personal salvation, and doesn't encourage a high level of active and compassionate social engagement.

I hope some of you can help me with this. The opinions of current or former bhikkhus and bhikkhunis would be especially appreciated!

Hopefully,
Vakkali
I can understand why Christians would want to address issues of inequality and poverty. One of the things that always struck me most about Christian belief was the inequality and poverty when creation is a result of an omnipotent and loving creator god. The second thing that comes to my mind (based in part from what I have seen) is the desire to “harvest souls”.

According to my understanding of Buddhism for the perspective of a “folk Buddhist (to use the labelling applied by some) I do not feel the need to make up for what I perceive as the deficiencies in philosophy because the Dhamma clear explains the reasons for inequality.

Yes I would agree about the activities of many Christian organisations – but stop and think about the lack of centralised organisation within the Buddhist community. The only well organised sect that I can think of in Thailand would be :alien: xxxxxx. This is the first thing that came to my mind reading James-the-gaints report of the BKK Thais.

I believe that giving to the poor (i would prefer the phrase – those in need) to be a natural extension of loving kindness and compassion. However there is far more to it than this not the least of which the relationship between renunciation and giving.
I'm aware of Engaged Buddhism, which seems most popular here in North America...but what about Asia?
Everyone has their own issues to deal with on their journey, with unique sets of barriers and opportunities created in part by their kamma and in part by the decisions they have made in this life. The opportunities to give in the first world differ to those in traditional Buddhist countries.

Giving and generosity is expressed differently in traditional societies – the focus is on the family as is all aspects of the culture. For this reason the giving may not be as obvious as in the west. The real advantage IMO is that it allows for the giving to be in person and with discernment as we have been taught by the Buddha to give. Often along with material needs there is a need for kindness and compassion of emotional and spiritual nature. To Illustrate the issues, there are a couple of Thai kids that are not mine that I financial support just because it brings me happiness. Every payment is made separately and depends on their needs at the time. In amongst everything else, I support their education and get copies of their school reports. I discuss the reports with them online (I bought them tablets and they get free internet through a health clinic). From these interactions they know that there is someone who cares for them at an emotional level as well as financially. As far as possible I try and bring in aspect of the Dhamma to the conversation because I know that the greatest gift is the Dhamma. If we accept (as I do) that progress by the N8FP is the best use of this life; then what I receive in return are gifts that money could not buy.

My understandings of the role of the monastics in regard to giving are that there is a exchange of gifts from the laity, and in return teaching of the Dhamma to enhance the development of both. Through the teaching of the Dhamma the monks play a role in the support of those in need. In the content of material support what their teaching provides is a catalyst that promotes the support of the needy in the community by the laity.

metta
dagon

mahat
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Re: Dāna & the poor

Post by mahat » Tue Dec 03, 2013 3:31 pm

Buddhist monks and nuns are not like monks and nuns from other traditions. Buddha knew one of the illnesses of society was the severe lack of merit people had which made them lead horrible lives of deprivation. Someone might give a poor person some charity, a free school or hospital or a home, but the cause of his/her returning to a life of deprivation or hell still did not end since he or she still lacked understanding of the Dhamma.

The Sangha of the Buddha was created with generation of the maximum amount of merit possible. That is why they are called "The Unequalled Field of Merit" The Sangha is generally representative of the community of the people around them and they can come from poor or rich families. Giving funds to them, most families have faith that they will generate the most merit since they are bound by ethical and moral vows which derive from the Dhamma Chakra.

Generally the Sangha always used the funds not only for themselves but the Sangha served as an educational institution for the poor, retirement place for the old, helped with medicine and community service by providing the general population with moral and meditative guidance so they don't return to the cycle of deprivation and hellish states of existence.

That being said, Dana or charity is the 1st of the perfections in Buddhism.

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Mkoll
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Re: Dāna & the poor

Post by Mkoll » Tue Dec 03, 2013 4:25 pm

Vakkali wrote:Hey everyone,

Something's been troubling me, and I was hoping that I could get more input to help me figure it out...

People can complain about Christianity & the behavior of certain Christians all they want, but it seems like Christian organizations do a LOT to alleviate poverty and associated problems in poor communities and under-developed countries. The New Testament material that I'm familiar with seems to place a lot of emphasis on elevating impoverished and otherwise oppressed individuals in society...and I have to admit that I've been somewhat disappointed by what seems like a lack of specific injunctions to give, not just to monks, but to poor and homeless people as a means of combating inequality and relieving suffering.

Why is this? Am I not reading the right suttas? Or is giving to the poor considered a natural extension of Buddhist principles of compassion and generosity? I'm aware of Engaged Buddhism, which seems most popular here in North America...but what about Asia? Do Theravada monastics actively encourage efforts to fight poverty, hunger, and other things? Help me out here.

I have to admit that this question (these questions?) is/are partly motivated by accusations that Theravada Buddhism is more or less concerned with personal salvation, and doesn't encourage a high level of active and compassionate social engagement.

I hope some of you can help me with this. The opinions of current or former bhikkhus and bhikkhunis would be especially appreciated!

Hopefully,
Vakkali
Dear Vakkali,

The other posters in this thread have made some excellent points and I would like to add a point that hasn't been mentioned yet.

The cultural milieu in the area that the Buddha lived and teached was full of wanderering teachers and religious sects. These teachers and sects were highly respected and even supported by royalty. When the Buddha began his dispensation, he was one among many teachers. The evidence for this is found from historical work and from the Suttas themselves. In light of this historical background, I see his advice to give to the Sangha as meaning to support the Sangha rather than other sects; this is not talking about giving to the Sangha and excluding giving to the poor.

In regards to monastics, I don't remember if it was the Buddha or an arahant disciple who said this, but basically they said that the ideal monastic is an emaciated beggar with veins showing all over his body who lives in the forest. A pure person such as this would only need the barest minimum of requisites to live.

I recommend The Foundations of Buddhism by Professor Rupert Gethin for a good introduction to the historical background of Buddhism and Buddhism in general for anyone who hasn't read it.

Another lovely Buddhist charity is Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi's http://www.buddhistglobalrelief.org/

:anjali:
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa

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jungblood
Posts: 43
Joined: Thu Jun 20, 2013 4:30 pm

Re: Dāna & the poor

Post by jungblood » Wed Jan 08, 2014 12:58 am

Hello all,

There are some great points and insights in this thread... One of the things that most attracted me to Buddha's teachings was their acknowledgment that things change with time and even 'fundamentals' like the VInaya should be adapted accordingly in future times so as to enable people to experience the Dhamma in their own context... Today we live in a world of unprecedented wealth - a few hundred years ago it might be argued that some level of poverty was inevitable in the world, but now the continuance of poverty and deprivation can only be attributed to the way we organize our society - there's (way) more than enough money, food and other resources for everyone on the planet to live very comfortably... This is only my own opinion, but in modern times I think the principle of Dana calls on us to address the culture of selfishness and greed that creates inequality and deprivations... In today's world poverty is caused by policy choices, not any lack of resources... As the late (and very great) Nelson Mandela once said: “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”

:anjali:
'Renunciation' http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... bl036.html
'Trading candy for gold': http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... candy.html

'The more we really know the Dhamma, the more we can let go. Those who know a little can let go of a little; those who know a lot can let go of a lot.' - Ajaan Lee

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